Democrats try suing Trump
Lawmakers accuse president over foreign state payments to his businesses
17 June, 2017
More than 190 Democratic lawmakers filed last Wednesday a complaint against President Donald Trump in federal court, saying he had accepted funds from foreign governments through his businesses without congressional consent in violation of the US Constitution, news wires reported. According to them, Trump had not sought congressional approval for any of the payments his hundreds of businesses had received from foreign governments since he took office in January, even though the Constitution requires him to do so.
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment but has said Trump's business interests do not violate the Constitution. The Trump Organisation has said it will donate profits from customers representing foreign governments to the US Treasury but will not require such customers to identify themselves. The Justice Department has declined to comment.
At least 30 senators and 166 representatives are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, representing the largest number of legislators ever to sue a US president. The Constitution's “foreign emoluments” clause bars US officeholders from accepting payments and various other gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval. The lawmakers in the lawsuit will be represented in court by the Constitutional Accountability Centre, a public interest law firm in Washington. Each lawmaker is paying a share of the legal fees from personal or campaign accounts.
“The president's failure to tell us about these emoluments, to disclose the payments and benefits that he is receiving, mean that we cannot do our job. We cannot consent to what we don’t know,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, one of the lawmakers bringing the lawsuit, said. Representative John Conyers added that “President Trump has conflicts of interest in at least 25 countries, and it appears he's using his presidency to maximise his profits.”
Similar lawsuits have been filed in recent months by parties including a non-profit ethics group, a restaurant trade group, and the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia. They allege that Trump's acceptance of payments from foreign and US governments through his hospitality empire puts other hotel and restaurant owners at an unfair disadvantage and provides governments an incentive to give Trump-owned businesses special treatment.
In a motion to dismiss one such lawsuit last Friday, the Justice Department argued that the plaintiffs had not shown any specific harm to their businesses, and that Trump was only banned from receiving foreign government gifts if they arose from his service as president. Last Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that “partisan politics” was behind the lawsuit by the Maryland and District of Columbia officials.
Lawmakers rarely sue the president, so there are few federal court decisions the legislators can cite to prove their legal standing to bring last Wednesday's case, according to Leah Litman, an assistant professor in constitutional law at the University of California. “But the constitutional provision they're suing to enforce gives them a role in how it's carried out, and that gives them a powerful standing argument,” he pointed out cited by Reuters.